Is the Niqab un-Islamic?

niqabGrand Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi the dean of Al-Azhar University and one of the highest Islamic authorities in Egypt and the Muslim world says so. He told a young female student to take the Niqab off when he was on a visit to one of the schools affiliated to Al Azhar (one of the most prestigious Islamic institutions) The Grand Sheikh said the Niqab is a tradition and not part of Islam, he apparently told the girl “I know more about Islam than your parents and I’m telling you to take it off”

Sheikh Tantawihas also given directives that female students going to Al Azhar University be banned from wearing the Niqab.

The move has sparked so much controversy with many female students wearing the Niqab protesting outside the state-run Cairo University, which has banned the veils from its residence hall.

Some MP’sfrom the Muslim brotherhood are asking Sheikh Tantawi to step down from being head of Al Azhar for his remarks.

Italy is now using Sheik Tantawi’s remarks to pass a law to ban the Burqa or the Niqab. Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his right-wing coalition have presented a proposal to ban the Niqab, or burqa.

The anti-immigration Northern League party is leading the charge, and Italian politicians are now quoting Tantawi in support of their goal.

People of Freedom Member of Parliament, Barbara Saltamartini, said that “banning the burqa cannot be considered anti-Muslim because it is not obligatory in Islam,” echoing Tantawi’s sentiments.

A prominent Canadian Muslim lobby group is calling on the federal government to ban women from wearing the burqa in public.

I go to Egypt fairly regularly to visit my family and in the past few years I’ve noticed that more women are wearing the  or Burqa and not just in poorer areas but in the area where our family house is for instance, and while it’s not a rich middle class area you can’t call it poor.

I also have among my many other cousins, three girl cousins; all sisters and all wear the Niqab. They used to live in Saudi Arabia and were used to wearing it as it is the tradition in the country.

When they moved to Egypt to go to university, they continued to wear it and when I asked my uncle why they were wearing the Niqab even though they were in Egypt now and didn’t have to, he said that he told them they could take it off if they wanted and they refused.

Sheikh Tantawi’s remarks got me thinking about whether he actually reflects the opinion of the vast majority of Muslims in Egypt and elsewhere in the world. If the Niqab has nothing to do with Islam then why are more women wearing it not just in Egypt and other Arab countries but in Europe and the USA as well?

42 Responses to “Is the Niqab un-Islamic?”

  1. 1 student
    October 7, 2009 at 21:59

    I pray you are well.

    Shaykh Tantawi is mistaken. Every major text of law, from varying schools of thought including the four Sunni schools of Law, speak abundantly about the niqab, its place in Islam, and the rulings related to it. The Hanafi school considers it “necessary” as do a number of scholars in the Shafi`i school.

    There are also a number of prophetic narratives that indicate, quite clearly, that women during his time would cover their faces. Any basic research, even on the internet, would easily demonstrate this.

    Take care

  2. October 7, 2009 at 23:07

    I wish the Niqab were un-Islamic. Sadly both the Niqab and the Hijab are very Islamic – as per what people actually do in Islam. But more importantly both are anti-human. They are hostile to the human spirit. So, yes, the more Islamic leaders that go out and say the niqab and the hijab are un-Islamic the better. But right now many men and women in Islam live in a culture that fears human sexuality, the human body, the human spirit, and the human condition.

  3. 3 Bert
    October 7, 2009 at 23:11

    “If the Niqab has nothing to do with Islam then why are more women wearing it not just in Egypt and other Arab countries but in Europe and the USA as well?”

    I’d be very interested to hear opinions from among them.

    My own view on this is that IF Moslems in general, i.e. not speaking of Islamist extermists, are at all interested in gaining more acceptance in the non-Moslem parts of the world, this would be a brilliant first step. Hiding one’s features in most other cultures is viewed with great suspicion. Especially in times of suicidal maniacs using such clothing to hide explosives.

    In truth, I haven’t noticed an increase in the wearing of burqas or niqabs in the US, but then again, I am not researching the topic.

  4. 4 Tom D Ford
    October 7, 2009 at 23:55

    Yes, why do they want to wear it?

    • 5 osuagwu
      October 8, 2009 at 10:27

      Some weman are actually forced to wear the Niqab/Hijab/Bouka by their huabands , family or self decleared moral police extremists. Some aresuccumb to donning the complete face covering after threats from the extreme sects of islam. I remember the story of a female university student whose long beautiful unvieled hair was forcefully cut by fundamentalists in a government university campus.

      • 6 Sharafadeen A. (Sokoto)
        October 12, 2009 at 13:04

        How do you get know that some women were actually forced to wear it (Niqab, burqa or Hijab)? where are you getting your statistics from? I guess most women who wear the bini spaghetti and there likes are not forced to wear them but been seduced to wear it man by men who praise them

  5. 7 T
    October 8, 2009 at 00:23

    Maybe it’s a backlash against some Western religions. Maybe to some it’s a way to show your commitment to Islam.

    While this is ok, if you choose to live in a Western country, it’s an in-your-face culture (like it or not). Which means you have two choices. Either adapt to your new homeland. Or go elsewhere.

  6. 8 viola
    October 8, 2009 at 02:22

    Three cheers for Sheik Mohamed Tantawi.

  7. 9 mohsin
    October 8, 2009 at 03:00

    Can we leave religion aside as because it is very contentious matter and you cannot debate anything that is based on pure faith? You can have intelligent debate when it is based on reasons that are………

    If a niqab wearing woman (any woman whether she practices Islam or keeps her religion secret) wants to mingle in the society where there is some accepted normal practice, we should tell her what are these..

    We should tell her we don’t mind what she wears but we need to know who she is.

    We should tell her if you want to have a conversation with me at your residence from behind a wall, it is okay with me but if you want to have a conversation in a public place, I must see you as much as you want to see me.

    As a part of the society where we live, I have an obligation to know if you feel unsafe, threatened or whatever so that I can help you (and me too) to remove those threats.

    I can’t remember at this moment of any (largly acceptable) female Muslim scholar. However, I would love to know the opinion of Ms Rabiah Hutchinsons (the surf chic whom the BBC Outlook interviewed recently) on this matter.

  8. October 8, 2009 at 05:09

    Niqaab,hijaab or purdah, is very Islamic.
    One day Sayyadetan-nisaa-il-aalameen,Maulatuna Fatema A.S. was sitting with her holy father, the Prophet Mohammed,S.A.W., when a blind man came in.Fatema A.S. immediately got up and left the room.The Prophet later asked Fatema why she left as the man was blind.She replied, he was blind,but he could sense my presence and could smell my fragrance.

  9. 11 patti in cape coral
    October 8, 2009 at 05:53

    I remember asking Lubna on this blog about this, but I believe she wore the Hijab. She said she felt very special when she wore it, like a queen wearing a crown, something set apart. I don’t know if the Niqab is un-Islamic or not, but it is obvious that some women like wearing it, maybe for the same reason. My personal feeling is that no one should feel forced to wear it against their will, and with the state of the world being the way it is, there are places where it may have to be removed, but otherwise let it be. I’ve been trying to read the Koran to learn more, but I’m not up to that part yet.

  10. 12 scmehta
    October 8, 2009 at 08:10

    The matter of use of the ‘burqua’ or any other apparel should be left to the user’s choice, unless it is publicly/environmentally objectionable or indecent or offending. It must only be imposed, when any official rules and regulations lay down and demand a uniform pattern of wear.

  11. 13 scmehta
    October 8, 2009 at 08:21

    Adding to my previous comment:

    Even if the use of ‘burqua’ is made optional; hiding of face in the ‘burqua’ should be totally prohibited, because of security reasons in the present world scenario.

    • 14 osuagwu
      October 8, 2009 at 10:14

      You are very correct. In 2008 some Bandits in an Arab country hudwinked the security forces and eveded capture after launching a veracious gun battle by disguising themselves using the Burka/Veil.

  12. 15 osuagwu
    October 8, 2009 at 09:49

    The ‘Niqab’ and ‘Burka’ do not have their origins in Islam as a lot of moslems believe. The covering of the face actually predates Islam. It is a semitic culture that must evolved with life in the desert habitat .In the Holy Bible the book of Daniel Chapter 13 verse 31 made mention that Sussana was Vield.Some sects especially the more fundermentalist adherents of Islam seem to have ‘grafted’ this ancient semitic desert culture into their practice of Islam.

  13. 16 VictorK
    October 8, 2009 at 10:24

    Whether this garment is Islamic or not only matters in the Muslim world.

    Non-muslim countries are entitled to ban it because it’s not compatible with their cultural traditions and way of life, regardless of what Islamic scholars have to say.

  14. 17 ernesto
    October 8, 2009 at 12:39

    With one and a half billion Muslims in the world of which 38 million live in Europe and 4.6 million in the US, the West’s ethical code finally may be used on Islam with justification.
    It mean as well the duty to support liberal, i.e. emancipation towards freedom, thinking in all religions. Especially those that suppress half the population.

  15. October 8, 2009 at 13:32

    Salaam guys,
    As practicing Muslim women Allah asked us to cover all of our body parts except our faces and hands till the wrist, so that’s the official Islamic dressing code, practicing Muslim women aren’t obliged at all to cover their faces, so Al Niqab is optional in Islam, exactly just like fasting, practicing Muslims are obliged to fast the holy month of Ramadan, but if you want to fast more days inaddition to Ramadan then it’s totally up to you and Allah will surely reward you more for it… With my love… Yours forever, Lubna in Baghdad…

    • 19 JanB
      October 8, 2009 at 14:37

      Well somehow a lot of Islamic countries force you to vast during Ramadan, and/or to wear a Niqab, so what gives? When are you guys going to deflect some of that destructive energy away from Israel and the West towards your own leaders and scholars, the ones who truly suppress you?

  16. 20 Jennifer
    October 8, 2009 at 14:22

    Although I am not Islamic I agree with Mr. Tantawi! Remove, remove, remove all such coverings from women in this modern age.

  17. 21 JanB
    October 8, 2009 at 14:33

    There’s either a constant lack of reading glasses in the Middel East, or just a constant lack of common sense among these “scholars”, I mean what kind of moron do you have to be if you believe God will send people to Hell for wearing jeans, or just not wearing a Niqab, when he’s fine with people marrying up to four 9-year-old children to satisfy their perverse needs…

  18. 22 viola
    October 8, 2009 at 15:13

    Not being Islamic, I couldn’t say. I can say it is anti-women, demeaning, and ugly.

  19. 23 Tom K in Mpls
    October 8, 2009 at 16:29

    Government can be tied to religion ( sharia ) or to economics ( communism ) or stand alone ( democracy ). What is actually being discussed here is ‘how much control over you personal life should a government have?’. Personally I’m primarily a Libertarian with global community awareness. That’s all I need to say.

  20. 24 mohammad qasem
    October 8, 2009 at 18:41

    Tantawi was, is and will be an idiot for ever flashing his fatwas all over the place.
    May be he knows, but his knowledge is like described in the Quran ” Like the donkey carries the books without knowing what is in it”.
    Knowledge is more of common sense and not just have read or passed the idea.

  21. 25 Tom D Ford
    October 9, 2009 at 00:04

    Just like it is polite to remove ones sunglasses when talking to someone, it seems like it would be polite to unveil ones face when talking with someone.

    The eyes and facial muscles provide emotional communication that is essential to any communication between two people.

    In the west, anyone wearing a face mask is considered like a bandit, a bank robber, who cannot be trusted, and so a veil would be considered the same.

    Hiding ones face is impolite to ones fellow humans.

  22. 26 Ariel Huang
    October 9, 2009 at 06:22

    Amazing how muslims get so easily ‘tempted’ and turned on just by looking at a woman’s face, arms , legs or even smelling her perfume.

    • October 9, 2009 at 12:51

      Ah, so Western men do not get turned on by looking at the legs, arms, and faces of charming women ??? Oh, that’s right I forgot, Western men are full with innocence and virtue, and whenever one of them sees a really charming lady he immediately thinks of writing a really romantic and classy poem for her ! :). I mean for crying outloud here guys !!!

    • 28 Jennifer
      October 9, 2009 at 21:20

      This is what I don’t understand. Women have to hide their bodies, etc simple because men may think thoughts. Does covering yourself from head to toe really stop those thoughts? My guess is no. These coverings are supposed to preserve “modesty” yet it seems that it’s done more for the benefit of men.

      Do men from the middle east have self control?

    • 29 Dr. Md. Nazrul Islam
      October 10, 2009 at 09:19

      It is not that only Muslims men are easily tempted by seeing the faces, arms, legs, etc. of women any where on this planet. Western men do so more often. So, according to the Holy Qaran, WOMEN throughout this planet should wear Hijab / Niqah in order to cover their body from the view of other men ( not blood-related ) to her. Because western WOMEN are not abiding to these practices, so there are incidents of rapes, sexual assaults etc. etc. occuring every now and then throughtout the Western world.

      Dr. Md. Nazrul Islam

      • 30 Jennifer
        October 12, 2009 at 15:23

        Re: Because western WOMEN are not abiding to these practices, so there are incidents of rapes, sexual assaults etc. etc. occuring every now and then throughtout the Western world.

        I am thankful that Western women know that no amount of forcing women to cover their bodies will protect them from rape. Rape occurs in the Middle East just like everywhere else I am sure.

        If this was correct then we should also think that there are no homosexuals in the Middle East.

        Women throughout the planet do not want to be forced to wear a covering when obviously men need to learn to control themselves if they can’t see women without thinking bad thoughts.

        You can’t force the Qaran onto others who do not believe in your Allah.

  23. 31 moshezve
    October 9, 2009 at 16:15

    It is not required in the Koran

  24. 32 Dinka Aliap Chawul-Kampala,Uganda
    October 9, 2009 at 17:22

    Whether Niqab is Islamic or not,human being needs corrections,without such people can go beyond what individual religion requires.

    This ladies has cross the religious line to the traditional one.Let them stop be stop from wearing such because person has total been hoard from others (man).

  25. 33 REUBEN
    October 10, 2009 at 09:30

    Sheik Tantawi coming from such a scholarly background and heading a historical islamic Institution known for centuries must know what he is saying. I prefer to believe him than any other write up on this.

    He owes the whole world a study on the genesis of the Niqab and Burqa. There must be a history behind this. What is the genesis of the odd wears? Does this restrict or indeed imping the rigths of women? Does the Niqab as it looks today even look decent or human to be worn by humans? It looks demonic to me.

    I think the tendancy for women or people generally to copy things and begin to use them without looking into the history is the main thing that is causing this debate to be polarised now. For such a prestigious sheik to make such a statement,he must know what he was sayink.

  26. 34 jules
    October 10, 2009 at 23:40

    If the niquab is only a traditional form of clothing then why is there a big hoohar about it? it should not be worn in public as it is offensive and resembles surpression while reducing a womans identity.

    I think these women wear it to stick two fingers up to society or when its a bad hair day. All the west does is roll over and let followers of this religion once again have us jumping through hoops its pathetic it really is.

    Get rid of the demeaning item and show yourselves if your not ashamed of whatever it is you are trying to protect.


  27. 35 rr
    October 11, 2009 at 08:55

    Growing up, I was aware of why Muslim women need to wear the Hijab, but never understood the concept of it. So I didn’t wear it and my parents did not force me into it. But when I understood the need for it, I took it up on my own without anyone forcing me to.

    @ Lubna: I completely agree with you…

  28. 36 Tajudeen
    October 11, 2009 at 10:45

    To a Muslim woman, the Niqab is an essential dress that if not worn, the lady is like naked. Sheikh Tantawi is not right in is comment and judgement. That one is a Sheik does not mean he cannot make a mistake. Let him (Tantawi) apologize to the Muslim Ummah and seek Allah’s forgiveness for making a negative prouncement on a fundamental issue in the deen. Allah knows better.

  29. 37 Ricky
    October 13, 2009 at 19:56

    Women should decide for themselves what to wear. If they want to dress in burqas, fine. If they want hijab, fine. If they want business suits, fine. If they don’t want to wear clothes at all, fine (but they should cover seats with towels if they’re sitting down in such cases). If they prefer bikinis, monokinis, Cinderella gowns, punk outfits, Orthodox Jewish modest dress, pioneer dresses, hula skirts, etc., then why not? That’s my personal opinion. As for Islamic custom, the niqab, hijab, and burqa are all Islamic, as they have been customary in parts of the Muslim world and are bound up in Muslim scripture and tradition for hundreds of years. Such clothes may very well have been inherited by Islam from pre-Islamic cultures, too. But that doesn’t change the fact that the clothes are closely identified with Islam. As for any rules REQUIRING or BANNING clothes (well, except for, perhaps, footwear), those are unnecessary and the fewer of those, the better. (But feet SHOULD be protected, for they are in contact with the ground all the time.)

  30. 38 sheikha
    November 24, 2009 at 21:38

    assalam alaykum,
    Am a muslim women from Saudi Arabia, and I wear niqab. I want to wear it,it is a personal choice, you can think that hijab or niqab is ugly or anything you want, but you can’t prevent me to wear it. To all women who read my comment I say try to wear hijab one time and see who you will feel.

  31. 40 Isaac
    January 6, 2010 at 16:57

    As a muslim, I am saying to all muslims out there, if you are sincere about practising your faith properly, do proper research about muslim dress. If you want to dress like a muslim; – dress modestly ,, – wear the head scarf to cover your hair period. The niqab has nothing to do with Islamic law, it is a cultural garb, which predates islam, there is nothing religious about it ! Wake up for God’s sake !!

  32. 41 Ruwayda Mustafah
    January 10, 2010 at 02:01

    The wearing of the Niqab has it’s roots in Islam just like Hijab. If a random scholars wants to appease to the liberal views, then that does not make him the spokesperson for Islam or Muslims, and many prominent scholars have responded to Tanttawi’s view.

    Niqab is part of freedom of expression and religion. It might be something you don’t like or respect, but it is the choice of women to make, if they want to cover their faces then they should and in many societies are free to do so.

    Wearing the Niqab has never been a security threat, and if one was to say in case it becomes a security threat, let’s BAN women from expressing their beliefs and determining for themselves what they want, then I say INCREASE and IMPROVE the security of institutions.

    There might be some Muslims who deny the niqab as having any legitimate basis in Islam, but when faced with evidence from Islamic traditions, I wonder, what evidence to they bring to support their preposterous arguments.

    And, Let’s for the sake of the argument say this has nothing to do with Islam, it still has everything to do with the right of women to determine for themselves how they want to dress.

  33. 42 loudobservant
    January 11, 2010 at 21:47

    I salute Ruwayda Mustafah for her views and I hope there are many more of Ruwaydas in this world to vouch for our shared views about Ridaa!Burqaa/Niqaab/Purdah or veil.
    Salaam-e-jameel va rahmatullah-e-va barakaatuhu.
    Miustafa Kitabwalla

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